The Pulpwood Queens Sail the High Seas (Or My Experience Selling Books on a Cruise)

Jennie Helderman

I don’t like group tours, touristy places or making a spectacle of myself. So why did I sail to Nassau like a sardine with 2,600 strangers? Why did a rhinestone crown perch on my noggin?

I’m a queen. That’s why.

A Pulpwood Queen Author traveling on the first ever Kathy Patrick Pulpwood Queens Book Club Cruise. Kathy Patrick, a hairdresser in Jefferson, Texas, population 2,000, founded the first Pulpwood Queens book club about twelve years ago with the ironclad rule that members wear tiaras. The bigger the tiara, the better. And, as they say in Texas, the higher the hair, the closer to God. Today the clubs total 525 in the U.S. and 11 other countries and they voted my book, As the Sycamore Grows, their 2012 Bonus Book of the Year. Our ship had once been the largest cruise ship in the world and it held 2,600 passengers. We 25 were the only queens.

Not that our cabins were regal—I’ve been in larger closets. But my cabin was cozy and comfortable. I could see the ocean, if I stood on the bed and peered out the porthole. Unlike the pricier ocean view cabins which looked out onto life boats. Nevertheless, the ship was snazzy, easy to get around, and steady in the water. Moreover, the staff treated everyone well.

It sailed at night and we played ashore during the day—and had a ball. I snorkeled at a coral reef, bought a hat at the straw market, and won $20 at blackjack. And sold books.

As an Author/Book Club tour, the trip was a time to talk about books with the club members and others among the throngs of passengers. Advance planning and exceptional help from the ship’s staff made this first venture a success. Every night the staff set up tables with a display and our books in the highest traffic area of the ship and manned them from 5 to 11 p.m. Large posters announced an Author Talk, as did the ship’s daily newsletter, public address system, and in-house TV. We competed with a climbing wall, pool party and the casino, but we had an attentive audience at the talk, and they bought books. Maybe they were curious about the tiaras.

In retrospect, I’d do a book cruise again, even if it meant making a spectacle of myself. Here’s what I’d recommend next go round:


Success hinges on a trip planner who makes all arrangements and a cruise line eager to cooperate.

Find or form a group.

Persuade some of your fans to join you, and/or team up with other authors, or offer yourself to groups that ordinarily travel together such as alumnae organizations. One author who writes historical fiction plans trips to the sites of her books.

Wear a tiara—or have some gimmick to attract attention and make a spectacle of yourself.

Believe me, you have to. It opens conversations and allows you to tout your book in the lunch line or at the spa. You’ll get used to it.

Fit the cruise and passengers to your book’s audience.

The ideal would be a couple of days at sea so fewer distractions, moderate cost, and adults who read, such as university and Elderhostel groups. Ours was a getaway weekend on a tropical playground, a mecca for newlyweds, teenagers, and younger adults, not all of whom read English. And we still connected with readers.

Cruise selling can be a way to work and play at the same time.

Photo from Josiah Weiss onĀ Unsplash